As the last in-person meeting of the Delegates had been in Albania in 2019, it was a real delight for the European Education Delegates to actually gather in Lyon for this years meeting. Whilst most were able to gather in person, a few joined us virtually, one from as far away a place as Tomsk in Siberia. But this hybrid gathering did not diminish the pleasure and excitement of being with another again. There was a genuine joy in reconnecting and feeling part of the European network again.
There had been a number of changes in personnel since we last met; the departure of old friends who had given excellent service, like Bernard Peeters SJ, Arlette Dister, Lourenço Eiro SJ and Adrian Porter SJ, and the arrival of new colleagues eager and happy to join our ranks. With so many new arrivals we thought it appropriate to invite people to properly (re)introduce themselves, firstly by speaking about what inspires them from the Ignatian tradition and then to talk about their provinces and current challenges. In this way both person and province were introduced and everybody got a sense of the diversity and wealth of the European network.
We were also sincerely grateful to be able to welcome in our midst the new Director of JECSE, Ms Agnieszka Baran from Poland, who will succeed Ilse Dekker from January onwards. Agnieszka has been very much involved in the JECSE projects for many years, and we trust and hope that JECSE will be in very good hands with her.
As for the general theme of the conference – over the last years our focus has been very much on collaboration and networking with one another; on starting new, collaborative projects on Ignatian formation and establishing task forces around key topics like global citizenship, safeguarding, Ignatian Spirituality and Pedagogy etc.
During our virtual meeting in 2020 we questioned how we could make the awareness of our mission grow in our European context. Together, we explored the challenges we are facing in Europe and how it affects the way we can currently shape our Ignatian paradigm. Our main (and very much unanimous) conclusion was that it is the shared discernment process itself that matters, and that we would need to regularly facilitate time and gentle spaces to reflect, meet and share – ‘green spaces’, as our Spanish colleagues name them – for the different stakeholders in our schools to make our learning journey together.
This year we focused on the four strands proposed at last summer’s JESEDU Colloquium: educating for depth, faith, reconciliation and global citizenship. The Spanish Team helped to deepen our reflections by framing these four perspectives in a remarkable, inspiring narrative, written at their request by Mr Alvaro Lobo, comparing Jesuit Education with building a Cathedral: as a work of depth and faith, and a reconciling meeting place of all kinds of global citizens, sharing one central and essential vision. As a work over generations also, contrasting our instant-result-driven cultural reality.
The need for a meaningful narrative was widely agreed on, as well as the importance of the language we use: to read and address the people in our school communities ‘where they are’ (especially in our ever more diverse communities). Accessible language (like asking about ‘deeper desires’ or referring to the ‘more’ of the magis) can be a doorway to interiority and to helping people discover and express their inner movements. It was mentioned that students are hungry for spirituality, and we should learn how to tap into that, referring to real life experiences. To see spirituality and faith as a process and not to avoid the question of God but rather to keep channels open.
Thinking about new possibilities for collaboration at the European level, in line with the four JESEDU strands, two ‘best practices’ were presented.
The first was the Spanish project (creative Province J) around Global Citizenship, which the JECSE task force considered to be very rich, because it explains global citizenship as a core project all through the history of Jesuit education, even if it was not always called by the same name. It clarifies a way to make global citizenship a lived reality in the schools through embedding it in the culture, policies and practices of the school: helping to implement a real community culture to help clarify our mission and vision, and to get the whole school community on board. Thus, it can give our core project in our mission of reconciliation a more structural embedding, especially since it is being explored in a bottom-up, collaborative way. Finally, it could also be a good review model, to enlarge the Ignatian self-awareness of the schools in a common language.
Related to this project presenter Antonio Allende SJ, Spanish education delegate, referred to the need of ‘educating for justice’, reminding us of Pedro Arrupe’s radical understanding of ‘faith and justice’, requiring critical thinking and honesty about our mission.
The second best-practice presented was the so called ‘Humanism + program’, developed by a German team under the guidance of Ulrike Gentner and Tobias Zimmermann SJ of the German ZIP, Center for Ignatian Pedagogy. This can be a very interesting project for us, in Europe, because, as for the humanism, we’ve talked many times over the last years about the economization of education, making holistic education, and the development of human as well as academic excellence, quite a challenge. And as for the ‘plus’ coming after humanism, we’ve also spoken a lot about the challenge of entering into the deeper dimension of spirituality and faith. Addressing this challenge in the diverse and secularized European reality was emphasized by Fr. General Sosa when he was speaking about the need to strengthen JECSE, which we in JECSE consider a ‘rich challenge’, which we want to approach in a positive way; as an invitation to find creative pathways into depth, faith and dialogue.
During their presentation Ulrike and Tobias not only explained the general idea but also led us into the experience, and the general feeling was that this project could addresses our European challenges in a universal, helpful way.
The in-person group left for Lyon on the last afternoon and visited a school in the city centre. There we engaged with the senior staff and some of the students who described their school with great pride and enthusiasm. The school was clearly a centre of innovation and exciting initiatives had been taken in regard to curriculum, timetabling and student choice. Many of the delegates were surprised to learn that the students chose their teachers!
The delegate group then walked through the old city and visited the beautiful cathedral located at the heart of Lyon. We sat in silence allowing the calm of this austere and magnificent space to seep into us. We then moved on to the Jesuit community located nearby where we tuned into the launch of the global network in Rome. Despite some technical difficulties we got a sense of the whole network gathered for this special occasion, the moment our global reality was being formally ‘baptized’.
The last day of the meeting is always a busy one with the focus clearly on doing business. Franck Janin SJ, JCEP President, spoke about the funding model for JECSE and Educate Magis and the unequivocal support being given by Fr. General to both organizations. An excellent conversation ensued, and a clear call went up for the two organizations to be more visible and proactive with the schools in the various provinces, with the support of the delegates.
At the end of the meeting Brian Flannery paid a full and extended tribute to Ilse for her extraordinary work with JECSE. He cited her various achievements and personal qualities and congratulated her for bringing the organization (in such a short period of time) to this healthy place. Ilse responded by saying farewell to the delegates group. For her it was not just a farewell after a 3-year mandate as JECSE director, but also to a long JECSE history as a former delegate and ethos coordinator representing the Dutch schools. She expressed her sincere gratitude to the delegates for a shared, meaningful journey, and to the Steering Committee and Franck Janin for their generous support over the years.
Another excellent conference. Sincere thanks to our gracious host, Fr Sylvain, French education delegate, who ensured that our time and meeting was as successful as it was.
Article written by Brian Flannery and Ilse Dekker